A History of Our National City

Regular Price $40

Regular Price $50 CAD

Regular Price $40

Regular Price $50 CAD

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On Sale

Oct 13, 2015

Page Count

560 Pages




On January 24, 1791, President George Washington chose the site for the young nation’s capital: ten miles square, it stretched from the highest point of navigation on the Potomac River, and encompassed the ports of Georgetown and Alexandria. From the moment the federal government moved to the District of Columbia in December 1800, Washington has been central to American identity and life. Shaped by politics and intrigue, poverty and largess, contradictions and compromises, Washington has been, from its beginnings, the stage on which our national dramas have played out.

In Washington, the historian Tom Lewis paints a sweeping portrait of the capital city whose internal conflicts and promise have mirrored those of America writ large. Breathing life into the men and women who struggled to help the city realize its full potential, he introduces us to the mercurial French artist who created an ornate plan for the city “en grande” members of the nearly forgotten anti-Catholic political party who halted construction of the Washington monument for a quarter century; and the cadre of congressmen who maintained segregation and blocked the city’s progress for decades. In the twentieth century Washington’s Mall and streets would witness a Ku Klux Klan march, the violent end to the encampment of World War I “Bonus Army” veterans, the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and the painful rebuilding of the city in the wake of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination.

“It is our national center,” Frederick Douglass once said of Washington, DC; “it belongs to us, and whether it is mean or majestic, whether arrayed in glory or covered in shame, we cannot but share its character and its destiny.” Interweaving the story of the city’s physical transformation with a nuanced account of its political, economic, and social evolution, Lewis tells the powerful history of Washington, DC ” the site of our nation’s highest ideals and some of our deepest failures.

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Washington traces the anti-democratic history of the capital of the world's biggest democracy.”

“Lewis explains the character of the city, how it developed, the dastardly building mistakes, and how a few particular characters helped define it. Those who enjoy the city will enjoy this book.”

Kenneth T. Jackson, Barzun Professor of History, Columbia University
“Tom Lewis captures Washington, D.C.'s virtues and vices, and aspirations and realities in this elegant and accessible history. He weaves cultural, social, and political threads into an insightful narrative full of human voices.”

Geoffrey C. Ward, author of The Roosevelts: An Intimate History
“From George Washington to Richard Nixon, Marian Anderson to Marion Barry, Tom Lewis's Washington vividly demonstrates that the human history of our nation's capital mirrors both the best and the worst in us.”

Ken Burns
“Tom Lewis has written a comprehensive and intimate portrait of our National Capital. It is a vivid example of the best kind of history: filled with fascinating characters and details, and suffused with issues that seem all too contemporary. Bravo!”
Wall Street Journal
“[Washington is] an engagingly written, panoramic chronicle of the nation's capital.”

Washington Post
“[Washington] is a remarkably amiable tale for a city that has seen so much trouble and conflict…Lewis succeeds in showing us the human face of Washington; and for Washington, too often perceived as faceless, that's achievement enough.

Open Letters Monthly
“Lewis is an excellent, comprehensive guide to DC's fraught history, providing fast-paced but thoroughly-researched accounts of wars, riots, congresses and presidents… Washington takes the torch from many very good earlier such books and carries it forward into the 21st century.”

Publishers Weekly
“The most reliable and useful one-volume history of the U.S. capital to date... Deftly written and enhanced by fitting illustrations, some of them rare and obscure, the book chronicles the city's vexed experience as a representatives' and speculators' playpen as well as the site of unrepresented American citizen's lives.”

Library Journal
“A winning addition to municipal historiography. Recommended for scholars and students of U.S. history, political science, and African American studies; urban planners; and all libraries.”
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